September 20, 2008
Reported by Robert Manning, RailPAC Director, Palm Springs, with PHOTOS by Mrs. Bob Manning
The Auditorium for the University Of California Riverside Graduate Center located in Palm Desert, turned out to be the perfect location for a train meeting. This public forum dealing with daily passenger train service from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley had sixty five people in the audience.
The panel of speakers included (left to right): Bill Bronte California Department of Transportation, Chief, Division of Rail; Richard H. Phelps Amtrak Vice President, Transportation; Sheldon Peterson Riverside County Transportation Commission
Paul Dyson, RailPAC President moderated the program and RailPAC Director Robert Manning was Meeting Chairman.
This writer gave the opening statements which included an explanation of the current California rail plan, and requested a fourth corridor service which would be daily passenger train service from Los Angeles to the Coachella Valley. We also asked that the long distance train the Sunset Limited be increased to seven days from the current three day a week service, and explained further how this increase would benefit the greater desert area.
Paul Dyson then gave a history and explanation of RailPAC, the benefits of rail travel and he then gave a brief statement concerning the terrible Motrolink accident before introducing Richard Phelps.
Mr. Phelps explained that he agrees with making the Sunset Limited a daily train and that it is â€œwhenâ€ not â€œifâ€ the Coachella Valley receives daily train service. He also went into detail explaining that the Union Pacific, who owns some of the track that Amtrak uses, is sometimes very resistant to passenger service and that requires persistence from us. Mr. Phelps further explained that by statute Amtrak should have the right of way and Union Pacific dispatchers should give priority to Amtrak. How ever many times this does not happen. Richard then went on to explain the many benefits of train travel, how it is good for the environment, very fuel efficient and what a benefit if we could remove more cars from interstate 10 and how that could improve our air quality and financially help this area. Finally Mr. Phelps stated that safety is paramount for Amtrak, and he then spoke about the terrible Metrolink accident and that many of the Metrolink employees are known by him and this type of accident is very rare and very emotional for everyone concerned and his thoughts go out to all of the victims of this horrific accident. Paul then introduced Bill Bronte.
Mr. Bronte went on to say that he is really a budget guy and he knows what it takes to run the California rail corridor service. He went on to say that in the 1990â€™s the state bought equipment and tracks but needs more then the budgeted 86 million dollars to operate the current state rail service. Mr. Bronte also stated that Union Pacific railroad would also say no to added service on the busy Coachella Valley rail line, unless money were made available. He went on to say that two pieces of pending federal legislation SB294 and HR 6000 Amtrak reauthorization including capitol improvements and 80 â€“ 20 federal state funding is winding its way through Congress. This would be a benefit for this area and California as a whole. He went on to say that we need daily train service and that we should focus on our federal and local officials. Paul then introduced the final speaker Sheldon Peterson.
Mr. Peterson stated that the Riverside County Transportation Commission encourages and supports passenger rail service for this area and he went on to say that a 2005 study of Metrolink service for this area proved unrealistic in terms of cost and benefit. He went on to say that Amtrak service is needed for this area because they are operationally suited for the distance, and the service they can provide such as cafÃ© car, and seating arrangements. Sheldon went on to say that Riverside County works with the state and both encourage this rail service for eastern part of the county.
After the speakers finished, Karen Brown district manager for Congresswoman Mary Bono-Mack (R-Palm Springs) stated that the Congresswoman supports Amtrak and the seven day a week service of the Sunset Limited.
At this time many in the audience, some seen above, with Meeting Chairman Bob Manning (right), asked numerous questions of the speakers and many gave statements as to why we need passenger train service for this area.
Paul Dyson, before giving the closing remarks, explained that Amtrak owns most the rail line on the east coast between Boston and Washington and this requires a lot of maintenance consuming approximately 75 to 80 % of the annual Amtrak budget. California pays its own way with the California corridor passenger train system, hopefully that will soon change.